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Types of silk fabric

How well do you know your silk fabrics? Dupioni, serge, habotai… don’t be dismayed if it sounds like the roster of some pirate ship to you. We’ll help clear away some of the mystery and explain the types of silk fabric and what sets them apart. We’ll cover terminology, characteristics, tricks and tips for sewing, and which projects call for which fabrics. No two silks are the same.

silk fabric types

Fabric types by content, type, and use

To get your bearings in the world of silk fabrics, it helps to know what parameters are used to categorize textiles in general. You might search for a fabric by the material (silk, linen) that it’s made from, by the weave (satin, brocade) or by use (linings, dress fabric) or some other special trait (bridal fabrics). Material content and weave are technical parameters, whereas use and special traits are descriptive and generally comprehensible without any expert background.

Most shops, including ours, use some mix of these categories. On top of that, many fabric names are historically established, so sometimes it just makes more sense to use them rather than concocting a new name using some purely technical naming system.

This article covers silk fabrics, which is to say fabrics woven or knit from real, natural silk. The various types of natural silk and their particular traits and characteristics are explored in detail in our previous article All about silk, so we won’t cover the same ground here. Instead we’ll discuss various types of silk fabrics and what makes each one special.

Want to learn more about silk in general?

Read our full background post on silk for everything you've ever wanted to know about this gorgeous material.

Fabric types by construction: Weave vs. knit

One of the basic ways to group fabrics is to sort them by their construction into weaves, woven on a loom, and knits, made on knitting machines.

Weaves fall into three basic types – plain, twill, and satin. The type of weave used, along with other variables such as thread weight, tightness, use of thicker and thinner yarns, and color determine what the fabric looks like, how it drapes, and, ultimately, what it’s called. Linen canvas, silk chiffon, and silk taffeta are all plain weaves, but they are certainly entirely different fabrics. Twill weaves, easily identifiable by their diagonal strip, include both the fine silk serge used for pocket scarves and the rough-and-ready denim used to make blue jeans.

Knits also come in various types, but the most common is probably jersey. If you have any experience knitting, you may know the jersey stitch as the basic knit-and-purl that you learned as a beginner. Jersey is a single-knit fabric that has essentially the same structure as those funny knit scarves you used to churn out – there’s a smooth knit face side and a piled purl back side. The only real difference is that industrially manufactured jersey is made by machine and the loops are so tiny that you’d need a magnifying glass to see them properly. There’s also a double-knit (or interlock) jersey which is basically two regular jersey layers knit together with the face sides out, as well as a ribbed knit where the knit and purl alternate. Because of how jerseys are structured (each new loop is pulled through a loop in the preceding row) they have a built-in stretch, even if they don’t contain an elastic fiber like elastane or spandex.

Silk fabric types by origin: Mulberry silk vs. wild silk and spun silk

Most of the silk fabrics on the market are made of cultivated mulberry silk produced by the mulberry silkworm. Other types of natural silk include wild silk, which is harvested from different silkworm species, and spun silk, which is made from short fibers left over after silk production (from either mulberry or wild silk). Each of these has a different appearance and slightly different qualities, so each deserves its own category. Learn more about the types of silk used to make silk fabrics.

Want to know more about the basic types of silk?

Read our article on silk types by origin.

Individual silk fabric types

Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals, it’s time to get down to brass tacks and introduce all of those wonderful silk fabrics that you’ll find in our silk selection and a few more.


Silk dupioni is a popular favorite. Although it’s a plain weave it has a distinct look due to the fact that different thicknesses of yarn are used in the warp and the weft. The warp yarns are very fine, the weft yarns thicker and slightly irregular. The result is a furrowed texture that can range from very subtle to quite striking.

Dupioni has a lovely silky sheen and comes in a brilliant color palette. Quite often you’ll see iridescent varieties where the warp yarn is a different color than the weft yarn, creating a shimmering effect where the color seems to change depending on the angle it’s viewed from.


Silk shantung is very similar in appearance to silk dupioni. Historically the name was reserved for silk made of Tussah silk in the Shantung province, but today it is essentially a synonym for fine dupioni.

Characteristics of silk dupioni and silk shantung:

  • Not a fluid fabric, behaves more like a tissue paper, holds shape well
  • Not suitable for ruched pieces, can be tailored with folds, darts, and seams
  • Lightweight, in spite of its rough surface appearance
  • Has a slight sheen, soft to the touch
  • Easy to sew with, but tends to fray – use a generous seam allowance
  • A nice choice for wedding dresses and formal gowns that also looks great in everyday wear and is attractive in home decor where you can take advantage of its broad color palette


Silk satin, or silk charmeuse, is a highly lustrous, fluid fabric. Its satin weave combined with a perfectly smooth silk thread give the fabric its perfect sheen. How does silk compare to polyester satin? Synthetics tend to be shinier and more brazen where real silk satin has a gentle luster and a more elegant sheen. Silk satin is lighter weight and it behaves differently – it’s airy and fluid. It goes without saying that in terms of comfort, breathable natural silk will win, hands down, every time.

Sandwashed silk satin is a variation of classic silk satin. If you like the drape of satin but you want less shine, then sandwashed satin may be just the thing. It has a soft, matte, finish like the down of a peach. Otherwise it shares all of the characteristics of classic silk satin.

Silk crepe-back satin has a smooth satin face and a matte crêpe back. Combine the two surfaces in your garment for an interesting contrast.

Characteristics of silk satins:

  • Very supple fabric, fluid drape
  • Ideal for ruched effects, full-circle skirts, and bias cuts but not suitable for structured garments
  • Comes in various weights from feather-light to heavy satin
  • High luster, totally smooth to the touch
  • Thin satins in pale tones may be slightly sheer
  • Sewing requires a good deal of skill
  • Satins are beautiful in flowing wedding dresses and evening gowns, slinky little black dresses, classy blouses, lingerie and nightwear


Silk duchesse satin is a specialty satin characterized by its greater weight and stiffness. It is so popular for wedding dresses that it is often marketed as “bridal satin.” It has a unique, pearly sheen that no other fabric can offer, silk or otherwise.

Characteristics of silk duchesse satin:

  • Stiff, does not drape like other silk satins
  • Not suitable for ruched styles, but absolutely perfect for complex, tailored styles
  • Heavy, tightly woven
  • Pearly matte sheen and a smooth touch
  • Opaque
  • Easy to sew with but requires some care when handling (look out for snags and avoid water stains)
  • Popular material for high-end wedding dresses and formal gowns, ladies’ evening suits, gentlemen’s smoking jackets


Silk crêpe is usually a plain weave. It’s made with twisted threads that give the resulting fabric a distinct, pebbly texture. Crêpe has a matte sheen with a slightly rough surface. Some crêpes, such as moss crêpe, are made with a special, irregular weave to accentuate their crêpe structure. In general, crêpe drapes well. Use it for casual pieces as well as fancy items.

Silk crepe de Chine is technically only half crêpe because the twisted crêpe yarn is used only in the weft. This gives it a subtler texture and a slight sheen. Crêpe de Chine is a supple fabric with a range of applications. It’s comfortable and easy to care for.

Characteristics of crêpe fabrics:

  • Drapes well
  • Perfect for ruched effects and flowing garments, but not suitable for complex, tailored looks
  • Featherweight, airy fabric
  • Subtle sheen, almost smooth to the touch, comfortable and airy
  • Light colors are fairly sheer
  • Sewing requires some skill – this fabric will run away from you – demands patience and care
  • Great for casual and dressy tops, tunics, skirts, and frocks – wonderful for scarves – can be painted with silk paints

Crêpe georgette

Silk crêpe georgette is produced in the same way as lighter georgette (see sheer fabrics section below); it’s a plain weave with twisted crêpe threads. Crêpe georgette, however, is much denser and heavier than ordinary georgette. In lighter colors this fabric is fairly, but not entirely, sheer. It behaves much as the other crêpes do – it drapes rather than floats, so it can carry a whole garment on its own.

Characteristics of silk crepe georgette:

  • Drapes well
  • Looks good in ruched effects, not suitable for structured garments
  • Medium weight
  • Matte, pebbled texture – pleasant against the skin
  • Lighter shades are sheer – we recommend layering or using a lining
  • Sewing demands some skill, but with some patience crêpe georgette is fairly cooperative
  • Perfect for summer frocks, blouses, tunics, scarves


Silk marocain, or 4 ply silk, is a heavy, luxurious looking crêpe fabric with a matte sheen that is especially nice in formal wear and wedding dresses. Its dense weave and fine silk threads give it a nice, smooth surface, and it drapes in full, rich folds. It is a sturdy, rather heavy fabric, exceptionally pleasant to the touch and comfortable to wear.

Characteristics of silk marocain:

  • Heavy, fluid drape
  • Gathers in full, rich folds
  • Medium weight
  • Soft sheen with a slightly pebbly texture, feels smooth to the touch
  • Fairly opaque (but high contrast colors can shine through – wear nude undergarments beneath white or ivory gowns)
  • Sewing requires some skill – like most crêpes, the fabric will run away from you, so a little patience pays off
  • Silk crêpe marocain is a wonderful choice for flowing formal gowns and will make even a simple number look drop-dead elegant – also a good choice for skirts, blouses, and details like sashes, borders, and accessories

Habotai (china silk)

Silk habotai, or china silk, is a light, soft fabric that traces its origins to Japan, where it was used to line kimonos. Today it remains a preferred, high-end lining, and because of its wonderful breathability we recommend it for use with other natural materials. Because habotai is light and soft, you can use it to line any light or medium weight fabric such as crêpe or fine linen.

Habotai can also be used on its own or in layered garments and comes in a wide array of brilliant colors. It is a favorite for scarves which can be hand painted or dyed; habotai’s subtle sheen really makes colors pop.


Pongee silk is very similar to habotai. Pongee originated in China, where it was woven on home looms of wild tussah silk, though most pongee today is made of mulberry silk. It is finer and lighter than habotai, suitable as a lining for the finest fabrics, and is also a good base material for silk painting.

Characteristics of habotai and pongee silks:

  • Slightly supple, draping in smooth folds
  • Can be shaped using darts and seams, but not suitable for gathered and structured skirts that need to hold their shape
  • Lightweight, some are nearly as light as georgette or chiffon, but not translucent
  • Smooth surface with a nice, gentle sheen
  • Lighter shades can be slightly sheer
  • Sewing requires some skill, but not as tricky as georgette or chiffon
  • Good choice for linings, layers, simple tunics and tops, scarves, or for application in interior design (soft, billowing curtains)


There is plenty of synthetic taffeta out there – it’s a popular choice for affordable formal gowns and dressy ladies’ suits. Taffeta has a smooth, tight weave. It’s especially nice for full skirts where its shape-holding quality comes into play. All of this applies in spades for silk taffeta, which far outclasses its polyester cousin.

Silk taffeta has a wonderful matte sheen and a papery quality, forming broken folds that elegantly reflect the light. The rustle of taffeta – known as “scroop” – is a sound like no other. Taffeta is a light, yet sturdy, plain weave where the weft yarns are thicker than the warp, creating a crosswise furrow so slight that you might need a magnifying glass to see it at all.

As elegant as taffeta looks, it’s not so terribly expensive. Consider it the next time you’re putting together a ballgown or wedding dress!

Characteristics of silk taffeta:

  • Stiff fabric, behaves like tissue paper
  • Excellent choice for constructed garments with folds, gathers, darts, and tailored seams
  • Medium weight
  • Smooth to the touch with a gentle sheen
  • Very pale shades can be slightly sheer
  • Easy to work with but its dense weave requires the use of very thin needles and pins (ordinary pins will leave holes) – for the same reason, work carefully to avoid ripping and resewing misplaced seams
  • Taffeta is a wonderful material for wedding dresses, formal gowns, even little black dresses and it also stands out in accessories and interior accents

Twill (serge)

Silk twill, or serge, is a light to medium weight fabric in a twill weave. You can recognize a twill by its characteristic diagonal stripe. Twill is sturdier than a plain weave and better withstands wear and tear. That’s one reason why silk serge is such a popular lining for garments that get a lot of use, such as jackets and blazers.

Silk twill, can be used on its own too. It can replace crêpe, crêpe de Chine, and crêpe georgette in blouses, light frocks, camisoles, and sleepwear. It is a popular choice for scarves. Foulard, the fabric from which designer scarves are made, is just silk serge masquerading under another name. Heavier silk serge is used to make neckties.

Characteristics of silk twill:

  • Slightly supple, drapes in smooth folds
  • Can be ruched and bunched as well as shaped with darts and seams, but won’t work for structured full skirts that have to hold their shape
  • Light to medium weight
  • Smooth surface with a soft, silky sheen
  • Lighter shades can be slightly sheer
  • Requires some care when sewing – it tends to run away – but not especially difficult to work with
  • A sturdy, good-quality lining for jackets, blazers, and coats, but also suitable on its own for making blouses and light dresses – can also be painted with silk paints


Silk velvet is an entirely different proposition than your run-of-the-mill cotton or polyester varieties. It is delightfully supple, light, and airy. Where cotton velvet is heavy and thick and makes a good blazer or jacket, curtains or pillowcase, silk velvet steals the show in flowing dresses, lush jumpsuits and tops. It drapes in soft, fluid folds that beautifully catch and reflect the light.

Most silk velvets aren’t made entirely of silk, but of a combination of silk and rayon where the ground is silk and the pile is rayon. There are some pure silk velvets out there, but they are very expensive and extremely difficult to come by. You may also run into a similar fabric called velveteen. The difference is that the pile in velvet is made from warp threads and that of velveteen from weft threads. The pile in velveteen also tends to be shorter.

Characteristics of silk velvet:

  • Very fluid fabric, drapes beautifully
  • Lovely in draped elements, perfect for flowing garments
  • Medium weight fabric
  • Pile plays with the light, alternately matte and lustrous, depending upon the angle from which it’s viewed
  • White velvet can be slightly sheer, otherwise colors don’t shine through
  • When cutting, take care that the pile on all pieces is facing in the same direction (you can tell by running your hand over it) – don’t iron velvet when sewing, just steam from the back while hanging – and be prepared for a bit of a mess because the cut pile gets everywhere (have a vacuum handy)
  • Suitable for ruched, flowing garments (dresses, tops with cowl necklines, cascading backs, fancy palazzo pants)

Knit fabrics

Knits such as jersey are something most of us wear every day in t-shirts, dresses, leggings, underwear, exercise clothes, sweats, loungewear, and pajamas. Jersey is undeniably comfortable – it’s stretchy and easy to wear. But when Coco Chanel decided to debut women’s fashions made of jersey in the 1920s she caused an absolute scandal (Why, that’s what men’s underthings are made of!) but the die was cast and nothing could stop the ensuing onslaught of leisurewear fashions.

Silk jersey is even more comfortable than its cotton cousin. If you’ve ever had a chance to handle it, you know what we mean. Silk jersey is so smooth, so fine, so soft that you hardly feel it against your skin. It breathes; it’s absorbent; it’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter. What more can you ask for?

Silk jersey can be made with classic mulberry silk or spun silk; sometimes you’ll even see wild silk varieties. The difference between classic silk jersey and spun silk jersey is really in appearance only. Classic silk jersey has a slight sheen where spun silk jersey is matte. Sometimes there’s a difference in drape, but that’s usually due to the weight of the fabric in question – the thinner the jersey, the more drape it has and the better it works for ruched effects.

Characteristics of silk jersey:

  • Usually very supple, soft
  • Perfect for ruched effects and for both loose and form-hugging garments – because it has a natural stretch, it can be used to sew clothing that fits like a glove
  • Usually light to medium weight
  • Surface is either matte or has a slight sheen, smooth to the touch
  • Thinner jerseys in lighter shades can be sheer
  • Use a special needle designed to handle knits when sewing (needles may be labeled “jersey” or “ball-point,” but not “stretch”… that’s meant for sewing elastic fabrics) and sew with a flexible stitch
  • Silk jersey is suitable for t-shirts, tops, dresses, undergarments, nightwear, pajamas, and loungewear

Sheer types of silk fabrics


Silk organza is a thin, light fabric but quite stiff. If you inspect it up close you’ll see that it’s a loose, plain weave made of especially fine threads. The silk fibers that go into organza are intentionally not stripped of all of their sericin (a natural gum) in order to maintain their stiffness. Organza will not soften after soaking and doesn’t require starching.

Organza is sometimes confused with the similarly named organdy. Both fabrics are loosely woven of fine threads. But organdy is made of cotton; it’s traditionally used for petticoats and underlining and has to be starched for stiffness.

Characteristics of silk organza:

  • Stiff fabric, does not drape
  • Absolutely sheer
  • Shapes very well into folds, bunches, and tailored seams
  • Very light, but due to its stiffness it does not billow
  • Smooth and matte
  • Easy to work with but does tend to fray (use a generous seam allowance), we recommend a French seam for sheer fabrics like organza, use only fine pins and needles
  • Organza is effective in layering, in stiff, gathered skirts and sleeves, shaped tops and tunics – can also be used for underskirts or stitched under another fine fabric to add support in place of fusible interfacing


Silk chiffon is the lightest, finest silk fashion fabric on the market. The slightest breeze will send it billowing in beautiful, elegant waves, making silk chiffon a perfect choice for layered skirts, trains, veils, and scarves. Chiffon is smooth with a subtle silky sheen. This differentiates it from the slightly heavier silk georgette with its matte, pebbly crêpe surface.

Characteristics of silk chiffon:

  • Drapes well
  • Great for ruched and flowing effects, not suitable for structured cuts
  • Very light, diaphanous
  • Smooth, with a slight sheen, feels weightless against the skin
  • Absolutely sheer
  • Sewing with chiffon demands skill and experience – cut with care (if the fabric runs away from you lay it on a blanket or the carpet) and use extra thin pins and needles – we recommend using a French seam for sheer fabrics like chiffon
  • Perfect for layered garments, barely-there sleeves and necklines, veils, scarves

Silk crêpe chiffon is an ultra-thin, diaphanous fabric very similar to chiffon, but woven with twisted crêpe threads, resulting in a less glossy, more pebbly surface.

Characteristics of silk crêpe chiffon:

  • Light, fluid fabric with a pebbly structure
  • Excellent for ruched effects and flowing circle skirts, not suitable for complex tailored cuts and structured skirts
  • Lightweight, although there are some medium weight varieties
  • Matte surface with a slightly rough feel, but comfortable against the skin
  • Light colors are sheer
  • Sewing requires some skill – the fabric will run away from you, so cutting requires patience and care
  • Works well in casual dresses, blouses, tunics, skirts, and scarves


Silk georgette is a thin, sheer fabric woven of twisted crêpe threads (see the section on crêpe, above). It has a matte sheen with a distinctly pebbled surface and is slightly rough to the touch. It is very light – toss it into the air and it will float gently to the ground. You see it often in layered skirts, veils, and those broad, diaphanous sleeves that float fetchingly with every gesture.

Characteristics of silk georgette:

  • Light, supple, diaphanous fabric
  • Drapes well, works in ruched looks, not suitable for structured garments and complex cuts
  • One of the lightest silk fabrics
  • Matte, with a rough texture, but pleasant against the skin
  • Georgette is very sheer, may require layering or lining
  • Sewing requires some skill – the fabric will run away from you, so it needs patience and care – useful to know special seams for sheer fabrics
  • Georgette works nicely in ruched layers, barely-there sleeves and necklines, veils, and scarves

Jacquard silk fabric types

Jacquard fabrics have a pattern that is not made by printing or painting on the fabric surface, but by a special weaving technique. A jacquard can be made with any material (polyester jacquards are popular for fancy hotel furniture) but for fashion, silk jacquard is preferred. Jacquard is a catch-all term that encompasses many varieties, each with its own name. We carry a broad selection of brocade and damask, both popular types of jacquards.


Brocade is a dramatic fabric with intricately woven patterns. It never falls out of fashion and is simply one of the most opulent fabrics out there, especially when it’s made of natural silk. We have a broad selection of patterns and colors to choose from. Many of our brocades are woven with real silk, which is why we include them in this list of silk fabric types. However, brocades don’t necessarily have to be made of silk.

The pattern of a brocade is more defined than that of other jacquard weaves and damasks – the pattern is raised from the surface giving it a sumptuous tactile quality.

There is one technical detail that should be noted about brocade however: None of the brocades you find in fabric shops today (including our own) are actually brocades in the historical sense; they are “only” jacquards masquerading as such. Nevertheless, this doesn’t make them any less original and unique. The word brocade is just so well-established that we bow to common usage – we beg the textile historians among us to overlook this inaccuracy.

A true brocade is much more complicated to produce. It’s an extremely taxing and time-consuming process where the countless supplementary weft threads that form the pattern but do not run selvage to selvage are added by hand, one row at a time. To get a good look, see our video showing how true brocade is made. That’s why a true brocade has a price tag of hundreds or thousands of dollars per yard, making it the second most expensive fabric on the market – only handmade patterned velvet costs more.

Historically brocade was woven of silk and real gold or silver threads. We have a number of such deluxe brocades in our selection as well – see our historical textiles, some of which are made purely of natural silk gleaming with real gold or silver. Most of our brocades combine silk and rayon or polyester and rayon. The latter produces a successful imitation of the silk version – fine and fairly breathable, pleasant to the touch – while relatively durable and easy to care for. Naturally, it’s also more affordable than pure silk. You will always find the exact textile content in the product detail.

Characteristics of our brocades:

  • Fairly stiff, falls in sturdy folds that hold their shape well
  • Easy to tailor using folds, darts, and segmented seams
  • One of the heavier fabrics
  • Smooth to the touch, with a nice satin sheen
  • Quite opaque, even in lighter shades
  • Fairly difficult to sew with – the material handles well, but is prone to fraying and can snag if not handled carefully
  • Strikingly beautiful, an attention getter – a great choice for formal wear or creative accents in luxury interiors


Most of us have probably run into the cotton damask used for sheets and bedding. It is usually a single color; the pattern is formed by contrasting matte areas with glossy satiny areas, an effect achieved by the use of various weaves.

Silk damask is made in the same way as its cotton cousin, but its fine silken thread makes greater detail possible. Damask is smoother than brocade – the pattern lies flatter against the fabric surface – and the fabric as a whole is finer and has more drape. You can find silk damask woven in a single color, two colors, or multiple colors; most of our damask fabrics are two-toned, producing the same pattern on the back as in the front but in negative.

Most of the damask fabrics in our selection are reproductions of historical fabric patterns. See our historical textiles.

Characteristics of silk damask:

  • Drapes moderately well, some are stiffer
  • Not suitable for loosely flowing cuts, easy to shape with folds and gathers
  • Usually medium weight
  • Smooth to the touch with a silky matte sheen
  • Opaque
  • Easy to sew with, but attention must be paid to lining up patterns – we recommend buying a little bit extra to ensure you have adequate reserve when cutting
  • Historical patterns are great for historical costuming but also beautiful for interior design applications – curtains, pillowcases, and accents

Less known types of silk fabrics

Many of the fabrics discussed above are simply plain-weave silks (dupioni, organza, habotai) as are some of those discussed below (noil, matka). But history, or their peculiar qualities, have earned them these special monikers.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of plain silk weaves sold in markets all around the world, simply, as “silk fabric.” Such plain woven silks are generally light to medium weight, slightly supple to slightly stiff, matte or with a very slight sheen. As a group they are generally suitable for sewing clothing and home decorations.

Silk blends

At Sartor Bohemia we also carry spun silk fabrics made of waste silk including noil (bourette silk) and schappe, a unique selection of wild silks, and silk blends like our ever popular silk cotton voile, silk modal, silk rayon or linen silk blend. Each of these fabrics has its own characteristics and advantages, which you’ll always find spelled out in the fabric description.

Schappe, noil and other spun silk fabrics

Spun silk fabrics are essentially made of excess silk left over after filament silk has been reeled. The difference among them is in the material and production process used.


Schappe silk is made of the best quality silk waste. After filament silk is reeled there are short lengths of fiber left over. These are collected and spun to make thread, much the same way as wool or cotton. Because these leftover bits are often fairly long, schappe yarn has a uniform thickness and fabrics made from it are still of high quality. Schappe silk fabrics are smooth and uniform, without nubs. The only thing that’s missing is the high sheen of those first-run filament silk fabrics. A schappe fabric can never be as fine as georgette or chiffon. Schappe silk fabrics don’t have the rustic look of most other spun silks; they resemble classic mulberry silk far more. Schappe silk yarn is usually used for plain weaves and twills like silk serge, though you will also find it used for crêpes or other fabric types. Its specific character will differ depending on the weave and fabric weight.

Characteristics of schappe silk fabrics:

  • Tend to be supple or only slightly stiff
  • Suitable for use in garments that require a moderate drape, can be shaped with darts and seams
  • Light to medium weight
  • Face and back are both matte, soft to the touch
  • Lightweight schappe fabrics in pale tones can be sheer
  • Easy to sew with, even for beginners
  • Can be used in interior design (curtains, pillowcases) and garments, especially casual trousers, dresses, skirts


Noil silk, also known as bourette silk, is a plain-weave fabric made from threads spun from slightly lower quality silk waste. Material for the silk may be collected from the inside of the cocoon, where the filament has been damaged by the pupa; material may also be collected from the waste left over after spinning schappe silk. Like schappe, the recovered material is spun like wool or cotton. The resulting thread is irregular and nubby.

Noil fabrics have a matte look and a distinctive rustic appearance that has earned them quite a following. They are effective in interior design – curtains, upholstery, pillowcases – as well as for garment making. They have the same practical qualities of classic silk (they breathe and are very comfortable) and are superior in some aspects (they are less delicate and easier to care for).

Characteristics of noil silk fabrics:

  • Slightly supple, soft
  • Suitable for garments that require a moderate drape – the fabric is neither fluid nor boxy
  • Medium weight
  • Both face and back are matte, with a slightly rough (but not itchy) texture
  • Opaque
  • Easy to sew, working with noil fabric is similar to working with cotton or linen fabric
  • Suitable for home decor (curtains, upholstery, pillowcases) as well as for garments, especially casual pants, tunics, jackets, and dresses


Matka silk fabric is a plain-weave fabric made from thick silk yarn. It is similar in appearance to a linen canvas. The affordable matka silks that we carry are made of spun silk and are available either in their natural color or in a range of muted tones. There is also a deluxe mulberry filament silk matka on the market, but the difference in price is significant.

Although matka looks like a rough, hand-woven linen, it is exceedingly soft to the touch and comfortable against the skin when worn. It is used primarily for casual clothing or interior design.

Characteristics of matka silk fabric:

  • Slightly supple, soft
  • Works well for garments with a slight drape – not supple enough for ruching but not sturdy enough for structured pieces
  • Medium to heavy weight
  • Face and back are matte and slightly rough (but not scratchy)
  • Opaque
  • Easy to work with, handles like cotton or linen canvas
  • Suitable for use in interior design (curtains, pillowcases, upholstery) as well as in clothing such as pants, jackets, dresses, tunics

Wild silk fabrics

Wild silk is used to make a range of fabrics, but you’ll see it most often in plain weaves and twills, which make the most of the interesting tonal qualities and structure of the material. Learn more on the subject of where wild silks come from and how they’re made in our article All about silk.


Eri silk is one of the best-quality wild silks. It’s sometimes called “peace silk” because the silk moths are not killed in its production but are allowed to emerge from their cocoons and fly away. Another name for peace silk is ahimsa silk. At Sartor we commission independent weavers to make our original collection of silk fabrics for us – fine plain-weaves, twills, and broken twills such as herringbone and diamond weaves.

Eri silk is a spun fiber, so the resulting fabric is entirely matte, with a dull, subtle sheen. They feel a bit like cotton and have more of a warming than cooling quality. This makes them popular for scarves and cool-weather fashions.

Characteristics of eri silk fabrics:

  • Slightly supple drape
  • Good for ruched looks, flowing garments, and accessories
  • Light to medium weight
  • Matte or with a very slight sheen, wonderfully soft
  • Lighter weights in pale tones may be sheer
  • Easy to work with, but the greater the drape, the more experience is required
  • Suitable for use in scarves, blouses, dresses


Tussah silk fabric is rather stiff, with a crisp hand, and its natural color is a lovely honey beige. In India, where its stiffness makes it especially popular, it is a favorite fabric for making saris. Tussah silk fabrics are generally sold for everyday use. The majority are plain weaves (from fine weaves to rougher ones that look like linen) or twills that show off its structure and beautiful color. Tussah silk fabrics are sometimes left in their natural shade. Because dyed colors tend to be duller, darker tones are preferred when dyes are used.

Characteristics of tussah silk fabrics:

  • Slightly stiff to stiff
  • Good for garments tailored with folds and seams
  • Usually light to medium weight
  • Slight silky sheen, smooth to the touch
  • Thinner tussah fabrics can be sheer
  • Generally easy to sew with, but thinner, looser weaves will require a sturdy seam (French seam, flat felled seam)
  • Suitable for sewing clothing and home decor (pillowcases, curtains)


Want to learn more about silk?

Read our other articles on the subject.


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